The Forest

A close friend posted a picture online recently, accompanied by a passage from John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist and author.  It read …and into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

On this past weekend, our Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, two of my sisters went camping with their families, braving the October temperatures in the boreal forest of Algonquin Park.  They also posted online, pictures and messages, waxing eloquently on the beauty and serenity of the wilderness world around them.

I have long believed there is no more beautiful place to be in the world than Ontario in the splendor of October—when the green forest recasts itself in glorious hues of scarlet red, bright yellow, incandescent orange, and intense burgundy.  The sun, lower in the sky, shines through them, and they glow as if afire.

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We lived on a lake in the north for a long time—a long time ago.  One of our favourite October pastimes was walking the solitary cottage roads after all the seasonal vacationers had headed home.  Smelling the wood smoke from chimneys of the few year-round homes, kicking the wind-strewn piles of fallen leaves, breathing in the nippy harbingers of winter borne on the autumn breezes.

Occasionally, late in the month, we’d even get the first falls of snow, blown hither and yon before melting away in the late October sunshine.

The forest was a refuge, a release, a reminder that life, once upon a time, was simpler and elemental.

Sixty years ago, I spent a summer planting trees on the slopes of a valley, formerly the rocky, infertile fields of a pioneer farming family.  A lovely, clean river meandered its way along the valley floor.  We worked in pairs, one with the spade, the other with the bag of saplings, and we traded places every half-hour, or so.  I remember it as hard work, dirty work, thirsty work, to be sure.  But I know now it was glorious work, where we were (to steal from the 1965 novel by Peter Matthiessen), at play in the fields of the Lord.

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One of us would cut a T-shaped slice in the ground with the spade, then pry it up, splitting apart the base of the T.  The other would gently place a sapling, each about six inches high, in the crevice, and press the ground back together around the fragile stem.  When we finished a row, we’d retrace our path, pouring water from a bucket on each new plant.

I’ve lost track of how many trees we planted in a morning, or a day, or over the entire summer.  But it had to be a lot.  Hundreds.  We’d never heard the phrase paying it forward…it hadn’t even been coined back then, I imagine.  But that’s what we—such callow, carefree boys—were doing.

I had occasion some time back to drive through that same valley, not too far north of Toronto, and I stopped to look at the fields where we had laboured—private property now, far across the river on the opposite slopes.  To my chagrin, I couldn’t see them at first.  And then the astounding reality struck home.  The fields were still there, but the green canopy of a forest covered them—a forest—shielding them from my view.

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Our forest!  Our trees!

I couldn’t walk through that forest, of course—touching the trees, remembering them in their infancy, as they passed from my hands to the soil that embraced them.  Nor, truth be told, did I really need to.  It was enough to recall those barren fields as they were, and compare them to what they became after we were there.

As I think back on that long-ago summer, I know I left things behind—sweat, friends, youth.  Lost now in the mists of time.

But, as Muir so eloquently wrote, I found my soul.

The Old Barbershop

Perhaps the only regret I ever harboured about having two daughters and no sons was that I couldn’t take them with me to the old barbershop.  I was informed early on that girls go to salons!

I always thought that was too bad.  Because, in spite of the razzing that most of us took from teasing friends after getting a haircut, it was always one of life’s most pleasurable experiences—well worth the minor annoyance of listening to wise-guys who persisted in asking why we got our ears lowered.

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The pleasure I experienced stemmed from a number of factors.  For example, it was comforting to enter the crowded shop, find an empty chair, and pick up a copy of the daily paper.  It was a respite from the work-a-day grind.

Today, of course, I pull out my cellphone while I’m waiting.

Back then, a drowsy feeling would creep over me whenever I was sitting, waiting my turn.  The low murmur of voices, punctuated now and then by hearty laughter; the snickety-tickety of the scissors; the low humming of the electric trimmer—all came together to create a warm, relaxing rhythm.  I often had to be called back from some far-away place when my turn came, though I’d never left my seat.

And no one ever argued about whose turn it was.

Being in the old barbershop was a familiar experience, too—particularly if one had been going to the same barber for twenty-five years, as I did.  But for the prices, not much changed over all that time.  Except, of course, we the people, who had a front-row seat to (as Yeats put it) the sorrows of our changing faces.

Traditional Barber's Shop

In those long-ago days, the same red, white, and blue-striped pole was always spinning in the window.  And no matter how many times I studied it, the stripes always seemed to disappear into the bottom in mysterious fashion, only to reappear at the top and begin their descent all over again.  Or was it the other way around?

I never figured it out, and can still convince myself, if I try, that it was magic.

Throughout those years, the same mirrors ran along both walls of the narrow shop, with the same few cracks and discoloured marks, right where they’d always been.  I still remember my amazement when, as a young boy, I discovered I could see the back of my own head while sitting in the barber’s high chair.

Even today, in a different shop with different barbers—a man and two women, much younger than I—I’m intrigued by the number of reflections-within-reflections that can be seen in the parallel mirrors, reflections that run in a seemingly endless chain to goodness-knows-where.  The end?  The beginning?

Anyway, it was always a comfortable and cozy delight to go for a haircut, and reassuring, too.  In this world of ours, where change seems to be the only constant, it was a joy to go in and find everything just as it was when I left the last time.  All the tools laid out on the shelf in the familiar, haphazard arrangement; the bottles of variously-coloured liquids standing, twinned against the mirror; small piles of multi-hued hair swept into corners, away from the chairs; and talcum powder covering everything in sight with its fine, white mantle.

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It was reassuring to know that Nick—my barber with his unpronounceable Greek surname—was ever willing to discuss the fortunes of the various sports teams we rooted for, and that he had all the answers to the problems that plagued them.  We probably had the same conversations a hundred times or more, but they always seemed fresh and enjoyable.

If you can understand and appreciate how I felt about that old barbershop, and if you can imagine the bonds that grew up over twenty-five years, then you might have some inkling of the trauma I experienced when I moved away.  It seemed impossible for the longest time to find that same comfort level in any of the many shops I tried.

But then, finally, it happened.  Just a few short blocks from where I live now, I stumbled across Joe’s Barber Shop.  There’s no Joe, anymore—he’s been retired as long as I have—but the folks who greet me each time I enter have become almost as familiar as the long-since-departed Nick.

My new shop is closing, however.  But not permanently, thank goodness; only for a few days, to move to a new location, one closer to where I live now.  By the time I need my next haircut, they’ll be comfortably ensconced in their new shop, still known as Joe’s.  And a spiraling barber pole will be there, too, to bedevil me as it always did.

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One major difference will await me, though.  They’ll be sharing digs with a ladies’ salon, and the waiting area will be used by patrons of both.  Because of that, I expect the tone and tenor of conversations in the shop will be different than those I remember from my youthful days.

But there will be one wonderful change that I shall applaud heartily.  Young fathers with daughters will be able to bring their girls with them when they come for a haircut.  I envy them that pleasure.

Toddler child getting his first haircut

Because the only regret I ever harboured about the old barbershop was that I couldn’t take my daughters with me.

And Still, The Seekers

In the early 1960’s, back when we first learned rock ‘n’ roll was here to stay, my favourite songs were not from the likes of Elvis (the King), Jerry Lee (the Killer), or any of the other superstar singers of the time—Dion, Ricky, Roy, or even Chubby and Fats.

Nor was my preferred music drawn from the best-selling albums of the mega-bands—The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, CCR, or any of the others.

I did enjoy them all, mind you, and many more besides—The Mamas & the Papas, Dylan, The Moody Blues, Aretha, The Platters, Buddy Holly, The Supremes, and Ray Charles (the Genius).

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If you liked early rock ‘n’ roll, and I did, these were all great artists among a plethora of others too numerous to mention.

I, however, favoured folk music.  Not that I was an habitué of coffee-houses, with their pungent substances and aromas, both drinkable and inhalable.  And I certainly was no one’s idea of a flower-child or long-haired hippie.  I had a buzz-cut, for goodness sake!

Truth be told, a square is what I was.  What today one might call a dork, a dweeb, a wally.

So inevitably, I became an unofficial folkie, listening to wonderful artists from as far back as the 1940’s—Seeger, The Weavers, Woody (and later Arlo), The Blue Grass Boys, Baez, The New Christy Minstrels, Buffy, Simon & Garfunkel, Odetta, The Kingston Trio, Lightfoot, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Joni, to name but a few.

So well-known are these performers, even today, that I’m able to list many with only their first or last names.  And there are innumerable others not even on this brief roll.

All of which is but a prelude to my introduction of my all-time favourite folk singers, the incomparable group from Australia—The Seekers.

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Unlike many of their contemporaries, their names are not as well-known individually, but their music certainly was.  The only surviving band from the ‘60s, anywhere in the world, with the original founding members (albeit with an interruption along the way), they compiled an amazing list of firsts in their heyday—

  • first group ever to reach No. 1 on the UK charts with their first three singles,
  • first Australian group to reach No. 1 in the USA,
  • first Australian group to reach No. 1 in the UK,
  • first Australian group to reach No. 1 with a debut song,
  • first concert artists ever to draw more than 200,000 people to a concert,
  • three worldwide No. 1 hits (The Carnival Is Over; I’ll Never Find Another You; Georgy Girl), and
  • quadruple Platinum for their 1994 live-in-concert video, 25 Year Reunion Celebration (which knocked Michael Jackson’s Thriller 10th Anniversary video off the No. 1 spot).

It wasn’t their awards that attracted me to The Seekers, however.  It was the music!  Three instrumentalists—Athol Guy on bass, Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley on banjo, guitar, and keyboard—backed up the lead singer, Judith Durham, augmenting the crystal clearness of her voice with subtle harmonies.

Whether you’re a musician or music-lover, if you want to do your ears a good turn, you have to listen to someone with perfect pitch.  Perfect pitch means hitting the real notes—their core sound—and singers who have it can do that.  Judith Durham had it in spades, and it was her voice that initially attracted fans to the music the group produced.

The Seekers were the final act in the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Paralympic Games in Melbourne, and their performance of one of their signature songs sparked both joy and tears in the athletes assembled in front of them, as attested to in this link—

They had so many hit songs, most in the folk genre, some crossing into the spiritual category, that it’s impossible to list them all here.  Some of my particular favourites are—

  • Allentown Jail,
  • A World Of Our Own,
  • If You Go Away,
  • Morningtown Ride,
  • Silver Threads and Golden Needles,
  • Sinner Man,
  • The Leaving Of Liverpool, and
  • When The Stars Begin To Fall.

The last one in the list, for which I’ve provided a link, is my all-time fave, as fresh in my mind today as when I first heard it more than fifty years ago—

If you want to listen to any of the songs for which I haven’t provided a link, they can be found on YouTube, and they’re well worth the time.

In 2010/2011, the group toured Australia and New Zealand with Andre Rieu and his famed Johann Strauss Orchestra, packing every venue.  This final link, however, is to their 50th anniversary concert at Albert Hall, London in 2014, described at the time as ‘one big hug of a tour’—

I enjoy The Seekers as much today as I did when I sported that long-ago buzz-cut.  I hope you will, too.

 

Lying? No, Storytelling!

“What’s the most interesting thing that happened to you today?” he’d ask.  My grandpa, puffing on his pipe.

Pleased to have his attention, and anxious to keep it, I’d rack my brain for a response.  Growing up in the suburbs in the 1950’s was pretty mundane.  Nothing of great interest ever seemed to happen to me.

So, I’d make things up.  Not lying, exactly.  Storytelling.

“I fell in the creek today,” I might tell him.  “Tried to walk across the log, but my foot slipped off .”

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“How’d you get out?” he’d ask, wisps of smoke curling around his head.

“Wasn’t deep,” I’d say.  “But don’t tell my Mum.”

“Nope,” he’d say.  “Be best not to go near the creek anymore, though.”  And he’d give me a broad wink.

On another occasion, I might tell him that my bike got stolen, but I managed to get it back.  Heroically.

“Wasn’t it locked” he’d ask.

“Yeah, the lock was across the forks of the back wheel.  But the guys who took it just picked it up and carried it.  That’s how I caught up to ‘em.”

“What did you say to them?”

“Nothin’ Grandpa.  When they heard me comin’, they dropped the bike and ran away.  I guess I scared ‘em off.”

“Sounds like,” he’d say.  “Maybe you should fasten your wheel to the bike rack from now on.  Be hard to take that.”  His blue eyes would sparkle, and I’d love that I made that happen.

He never tired of asking the same question, and I never got tired of answering.  I might have told him how I won the game for our team when I made the game-ending catch of a long fly-ball in centrefield.

“Jus’ like Willie Mays!” I’d say, omitting the fact that I had actually stumbled and fallen, slid to an ignominious stop, only to have the ball land on my stomach, where I frantically clutched it.

ballplayer

“Mays is one of the greats,” he’d say.  “You caught it over your shoulder, like he did?  Wish I could have seen it.  Next time, though, try to keep the ball in front of you.  Those over-the-shoulder catches are pretty rare.”  And he’d flash me a knowing smile.

As a grandfather myself now, I know he knew I was padding the truth.  But I didn’t know back then.  I thought it was okay, because it brought us closer together.

He lived to a ripe old age, and in the last few years before he died, he was slowed considerably.  When I’d visit with him, it seemed our roles were reversed.  Now it was I asking the questions, and he searching for answers that would keep me there longer.  I always asked the old chestnut.

“So, what’s the most interesting thing that happened to you today, Grandpa?”

He no longer smoked his pipe, but he’d stroke his mouth as if still holding it, and I could almost hear the gears meshing inside his head.

“Nothing much today,” he’d say.  “But did I ever tell you about the time I saved your father from drowning?  Fell off the dock while we were fishing at the lodge up near Bala, no life-preserver.  I reached down, grabbed his collar, and hauled him straight out of the water.  Poor little guy cried like a baby.  That was pretty interesting, I’ll tell you.”

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I’d heard the story many times, of course, and my father had debunked it every time.  “The water was shallow,” he told me.  “I jumped in, and waded ashore.  And I did have a life-preserver on.  Dad loves to tell the story, though.”

Of course, I never let on that I didn’t believe what my grandpa was telling me.  I remember hearing how he met the King, back in 1939, when he and the Queen, on their tour of Canada, visited the hospital where my grandpa was recuperating from surgery.

“I had a picture of the two of us,” he’d say.  “Don’t know what ever happened to it.  Your grandma must’ve thrown it out.  But that was really interesting!”

Grandma would only smile when I asked about that picture.  “Grandpa was in the hospital in 1937,” was all she’d say.

I heard about the lawn-bowling championship he won, the skip of a Dominion championship team in 1909.  According to him, the mantel clock that still sits in my home was the prize awarded for the victory.

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“There’s no plaque on it, Grandpa,” I once told him.  “How come they didn’t put your name on it?”  The wistful look he gave me made me wish I hadn’t asked.

“Ah, they gave us all a letter,” he said.  “Signed by the prime minister, Mr. Borden.  That’s why your father’s middle name is Borden.  No idea where that letter is now.  But that’s pretty interesting, don’t you think?”

I nodded in agreement, and was circumspect enough not to mention that the prime minister in 1909 was Wilfrid Laurier.  My father was born in 1911, right after Robert Borden’s election.

By then, my grandpa’s eyes no longer sparkled as in days of yore.  But he’d still wink at me while telling his stories, and smile whimsically.  Kind of like my smile now, when I listen to my own grandchildren telling me about the momentous events in their lives.

And when they ask me about the interesting things in my day, I try not to lie to them.  Elaborating is not the same as lying.

“Nothing much today,” I tell them.  “But did I ever tell you about the time I saved my brother from the big kid across the road who was beating him up?  I ended up with a bloody nose and a black eye, but that kid never picked on my brother again.  That was pretty interesting.”

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“Really, Gramps?” they marvel.  Or pretend to.

Of course, I don’t tell them the real reason my brother was safe afterwards; the kid’s family moved away.

To this day, I have a warm feeling inside when I remember my grandpa, and those conversations we used to have.  And I love the exchanges now with my grandchildren, swapping tales about our lives.

Not lying, exactly.  Storytelling.

Which is what I do.

Gone Fishin’!

When we lived on the lake, I was often asked by old friends about my retirement activities, and what I did to amuse myself all the livelong day.  Most of them assumed I did a lot of fishing.  And they were right, to a point.

In my opinion, there are few pleasures in life to compare to the joys of fishing.  But only, of course, if it’s done properly—that is, my way.

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It’s probably true that there are as many ways to fish as there are people who go fishing.  So, the proper procedures will be defined differently by each of us.  My routine would undoubtedly be totally inappropriate for anyone else.

I developed it as a younger man camping in the wilds of northern Ontario, and it was perfection, itself—or almost, since there was one flaw, which I shall come to shortly.

As I remember it, the proper fishing excursion began quite early in the morning, when all save the birds were still asleep.  I would rise quietly, so gently as to pass unnoticed by comrades on my way from the tent to the water’s edge.  The canoe, already laden with the necessary gear, would be launched smoothly, silently, into the mist-enshrouded lake.

My body would stretch exultantly as the paddle cut deeply through the water’s ebony surface.  For a time, nothing would be heard but the soothing hiss of the canoe across the lake.  My happiness was absolute.

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I’d watch as the mist lifted, a curtain rising before an audience of one.  Wet, wraith-like wisps would seek to flee the warming sun—frantic, elusive phantoms ruthlessly pursued until thrust from its gaze.

I’d be well offshore when the sun brought the forest alight in greens, bouncing and careening its way through the translucent leaves.  Dark shade-spots would climb the stretching tree-trunks, dance across leaves turned to face the morning light, and then suddenly vanish.

The lake—its diamond-dancing surface reflecting morning back to bluing sky—would part before my craft, bowing away in widening ripples to lap gently against the shore of a small inlet I might find.  I was in awe of the panorama of sunlit trees reflected in the mirrored mere—quicksilver, green, and cold.

The lilting lament of a loon might be all that would break the silence.  Great granite slabs, topped by bush and trees, slanted from on high down into the lake, which tossed back their image from its glassy depths.

lake

Peace would reign, rampant upon nature’s canvas.

Alas, it would not last.  For to begin fishing was to interrupt that sylvan sequence of morning life, to disturb its natural ebb and flow.  Yet, not to cast a line was to deny the purpose of the visit.

And therein lay the flaw in my perfect way to fish.  The act of fishing became almost a sacrilege in nature’s cathedral of calm, and thus devoid of any joy.  All the pleasure had come from just being there.

So, I had to adapt in order to come to grips with the incongruity of being a fisherman who didn’t like to fish.  I made sure my tackle-box always contained a book or two, a novel, perhaps, or a chosen book of verse.  It held my harmonica, a ‘one-man band’ with which I could while away countless hours.  And there was always a camera, loaded and ready.

tackle box

In short, I still went fishing, but I did not fish.  When I’d reach the perfect spot, I’d cease my paddling, sink back in the bottom of the canoe, and just drift ‘til it was time to go back.

Water-bugs would skitter their erratic dash across the water, an occasional fish would jump with a splash.  When a kingfisher darted down to stand on the prow of the canoe, I knew I’d become a piece of the very scene I was observing.

I was one with my surroundings—at once apart and a part.

fish cove

There were inevitable questions, of course, when I’d return from an excursion.  Where did I fish?  What bait was I using?  Did I catch anything?

I’d reply that nothing was biting, or that there were only a few nibbles.

In that respect, I guess, I was like all true fishermen.  I would never tell anyone where I’d found my favourite fishing-hole.

That would have spoiled it.

It’s a Boy!

Another of those small milestones of life passed us by the other day.  Our youngest daughter reached the ripe old age of forty-five.  It didn’t appear to faze her, the realization that she is now firmly ensconced in middle-age.  But it brought a flood of memories for me.

Way back then, my wife became pregnant at the same time as one of my sisters—apparently within days of one another.  We didn’t know that at the time, of course, but as delivery day approached for each of them, it became a matter of conjecture as to which would blossom first.

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My brother-in-law and I oversaw a number of betting pools within our two families—all in good fun, naturally.  Who would deliver sooner?  Would the babies be girls or boys?  If one of each, which family would have the boy?  What would be the combined weight of the two babies?

The combined weight of the two mothers was never up for discussion!

As it happened, my sister went into labour first.  In short order, a wee daughter made her grand entrance, and all of us rejoiced.  My brother-in-law and I gathered the vital statistics for the betting-pools.

A day later, my wife told me it was time.  I drove her to the hospital, after dropping our older daughter off with my parents.  It was hard to tell who was more excited, our little girl or my mother and father.  None of them could talk coherently when we departed—my daughter because she was only a year-and-a-half old, my parents because they were so thrilled about my sister’s newborn, and our impending one.

We had elected not to know the gender before our baby’s arrival, as had my sister and her husband.  I think they’d been hoping, if they had a girl, they could borrow our daughter’s swaddling clothes if our new baby was a boy.

As far as we were concerned, the gender issue was a non-issue.  Unlike previous generations in my family (my grandfather and father both celebrated wildly whenever boys were born), I was more than happy to welcome either a sister or brother for our daughter.  However, given our precarious financial situation back then, which would be exacerbated by the arrival of another child, I was secretly hoping for another girl.  I mean, a boy would have looked strange in the pastel pink and yellow clothing that would have to be passed down from his older sister.

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Our hospital was a welcome change from the location where our first daughter had been born.  This time, I was allowed—encouraged even—to be in the delivery room.  I had wanted to do that the first time, but was prohibited.

“We can’t be worried about a father who might faint during the birthing,” I was told.  They had obviously been tipped off that I had once passed out while having stitches removed from my hand.

I practiced for this delivery, though.  I attended the pre-birthing classes with my wife, learning all there was to know about the process.  I stood by her head in the mock-up sessions, holding her hand gently, counting the seconds of each mock-push and each mock-rest between.  I accepted that it was she who was allowed to scream, if necessary during the ordeal, not I.  And I was assured there would be a stool for me to sit on if my legs gave out.

The baby seemed like it would never come.  While my wife snatched some needed sleep, I spent time with my sister and newest niece, in their room down the hall.  In fact, I was there when my sister and her baby were wheeled into the room after a visit to the nursery.  I stood up when they entered.

“That’s not my wife, y’know,” I told the startled nurse.  “That’s my sister!”

The look the nurse gave me could have curdled my sister’s milk, had she been looking.  What sort of degenerates were we?

My sister quickly explained that my wife was awaiting delivery of our own baby, an explanation I wasn’t sure mollified the nurse.

Finally, some eleven hours after we had rushed to the hospital, the moment of arrival approached.  I was ushered into the delivery room, clad in gown, mask, and bootied feet, and planted at my wife’s head.  The doctor stood at the other end, with a mirror above and behind him.  For the next several hours (minutes, actually, but to me they seemed to drag interminably), my wife pushed and cried her way to the point where the baby began to emerge.

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“Let’s rest for a moment,” the doctor said, clearing the baby’s tiny mouth with his finger.

Perched halfway out, with the barely-showing umbilical cord still folded back into the womb, the baby seemed a miracle.

“It’s a boy!” my wife declared between pants of exertion.  Her certainty, it turned out, was the result of mistaking the umbilical cord for another appendage that only a boy would have.

“If this is my son,” I thought to myself, incredulously, “he’s bigger than I am!”

The procedure was completed shortly thereafter, and we welcomed a second daughter into the world.  After she was placed in my arms, I was the first to begin cleaning her squinting face of the birthing detritus.  Words cannot describe my elation at that moment.  Forty-five years later, I remember it still.

To top off the day, my wife was taken to the same semi-private room occupied by my sister.  My mother and father were already visiting her, with our older daughter, when we were escorted in.  What a joyful experience—introducing our newborn to her sister, her slightly-older cousin, and other family members!

After ensuring everyone was settled in properly, the nurse sidled over to me.  With a gentle elbow in my ribs, she whispered, “So, you got them straightened out now, honey?”

Oh, yeah!

 

Music in Muskoka

It never crossed my mind on that rainy, August Saturday in 1967—our wedding day, as we stood on the threshold of our future together—that our golden anniversary would eventually arrive.  And now, fifty years on, it has.

Symbolic occasions have never resonated loudly with me, for whatever reason.  My wife and I have always celebrated family birthdays, of course, especially those of our children and grandchildren.  Wedding anniversaries, however, have come and gone with very little fanfare—although not without a sense of gratitude for our good fortune.

But it occurred to us a while back that, when two strong, independent people are able to spend fifty years with each other, weathering the storms and cherishing the good times, it is no small feat.  It is, in our case, a triumph of symbiosis over autonomy.  And so, we resolved to celebrate this one.

Our wedding coincided with Canada’s 100th year as a nation; indeed, we joked that getting married was our centennial project.  Now, as the country celebrates its sesquicentennial, we marvel that we have been married for fully a third of its existence.

For some time, we cast about for ideas as to how we might mark the momentous occasion.  We consulted with friends who have already achieved the milestone, we spoke with our children, and we talked with each other, long into the night many times, searching for the perfect way to celebrate.

You’ll never guess what has come to be.

On the very anniversary date of our nuptials, my wife will be a member of the audience in a darkened theatre, while I, a lifelong singer of songs (but never publicly), will be sharing the stage with my comrades in a barbershop harmony chorus, sixty-five-men strong, for a night of music in Muskoka.

Had you asked me those fifty long years ago if I thought such a situation could ever come to be, I’d have regarded you as mad.  Yet, there I shall be, one voice among many in the mighty Harbourtown Sound, singing my heart out.

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This being Canada’s 150th birthday year, the programme will contain several songs of Canadiana, two of which you may hear now, should you choose.  The first is Fare Thee Well, written by John Rankin of Nova Scotia—

 

The second, Hallelujah, is from Leonard Cohen, and one of our favourites to perform.  It may be found at the end of this post.

Both songs will be sung in harmony with our hosts for the concert, the Muskoka Music Men, a local barbershop chorus.  Our chorus will be singing several other songs, as well, including selections from Broadway, Motown, and the more traditional barbershop canon.

My wife and I did take an extended trip earlier in the spring, as part of our golden year, and we shall be together with our children and grandchildren for a special celebration later in the summer.  So the concert is not a one-off commemoration of our special year, just one part of it.

Given my love for the music, I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to end the journey to fifty years, and begin the voyage to sixty years, our diamond anniversary.  And for that prospect, I offer up, Hallelujah